MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – The brain trust behind the American entry into the World Baseball Classic – actually, just call it the trust, as the brains are AWOL – believes that Team USA is just fine and dandy, thanks very much.
Injuries have rendered moot any strategy manager Davey Johnson might care to employ, and perhaps that's best, as Johnson and sound decisions seem unfamiliar bedfellows. The banged-up Americans travel to Los Angeles with a two-man bench for the WBC semifinals after a 10-6 loss to Venezuela on Wednesday night, and from the sound of it, that's fine with Johnson and his boss, USA Baseball executive director Paul Seiler.
The Americans have two roster spots available to replace the injured Kevin Youkilis, who's wearing a walking boot, and Chipper Jones, who's still smarting from a pulled oblique. Seiler can substitute anyone on Team USA's preliminary roster. That includes Grady Sizemore, Evan Longoria, Derrek Lee, Ryan Ludwick and A.J. Pierzynski.
"We have not reached out to anybody to replace any of our injured players," Seiler said.
Short on rollover minutes?
It's bad enough that Seiler continues to defend Johnson, whose players have absolved his on-field gaffes by performing in key situations. It's even worse that Seiler stood up for his training staff Wednesday after it didn't examine David Wright on the field when he fouled a ball off his foot and spent the next eight innings limping around. It's inexcusable that Seiler didn't at least talk to somebody in the Chicago Cubs organization to ask about Lee's availability, especially following Adam Dunn's butcher-ific performance at first base that included two errors and another negated by a balk.
Seiler explained that Lee was hurt. He thought he had a hamstring problem. Or maybe a groin issue. Actually, Lee tweaked his quadriceps.
"Even if a guy has a hint of injury, we're not going to say, 'Hey, can we have that guy?' " Seiler said. "It would be totally disrespectful to the player and the club."
The Cubs expect Lee to play this weekend. He was part of Team USA in the WBC's first go-around. Surely Cubs general manager Jim Hendry would allow Lee to join the team Sunday and play the winner of the Pool 1 final, Japan or Korea.
"Maybe we do call Jim," Seiler said. "But we feel like with the guys we have here right now, in trying to maybe evaluate and figure a couple other things out internally, we don't have to make that decision tonight."
Or, in English: Blah, blah, blah, we don't want Derrek Lee or anyone else.
Johnson said the team already had ruled out pursuing Lee. Because, you know, going forward with two healthy reserves makes plenty of sense in a final four rife with deep bullpens and pitching changes to exploit matchups.
The Americans got away with a one-man bench Wednesday, even if it meant watching Wright writhe around the field. He corkscrewed a foul ball into his left big toe, took off his sock to see blood pooling beneath the cracked nail, spent more than three hours shaking it off to no avail and only after the game hobbled to get an X-ray.
It came back negative, and Wright said he would play Sunday. That doesn't minimize the reality: He stayed in the game because his exit would have forced others out of position, and he didn't want that on his conscience.
"Especially with no extra players," Wright said.
Ryan Braun's expected return gives Team USA an extra body. That still isn't enough. Even if Longoria provides nothing more than a right-handed bat and insurance on Wright's toe – he should be the designated hitter, but it would be positively un-American to bench the ineffective Derek Jeter, now wouldn't it? – that's still one more option for Johnson, who already has enough of a headache managing with team-imposed restrictions on how to use pitchers. And Sizemore alongside Braun would give Team USA the ability to start a superb defensive outfield, with Shane Victorino in right, or a mashing offensive one, with Dunn in right.
Dunn won't be back at first base. And if Lee's not wanted, that leaves utilityman Mark DeRosa – he of 13 career games at first, and the one versatile American player, no less – to take over. Team USA is proceeding as such, despite Cleveland specifically requesting DeRosa not play there. Oh, and Johnson hasn't asked DeRosa's thoughts, either.
"Um, not really," Johnson said. "We didn't talk about it in those terms. We just talked about options outside the box and what we need to do, because it's only one game. We've got to keep going. If you lose, we don't."
Team USA was full of reasons not to bring on other players. Johnson said he would not use the spot on a third catcher, because he had no intention of using the hot-hitting Brian McCann and Chris Iannetta together, even if he had a backup. And Seiler talked about bringing a new player into the fold this late could disrupt chemistry, seemingly forgetting that earlier this week Brian Roberts joined the team, and in three games he went 6-for-11 with three walks and a U.S.-leading 1.552 OPS.
Hand it to Johnson and Seiler: They have faith in their team, no matter how loudly logic hollers in their faces that anything would improve upon their current condition. Johnson is the one, after all, who talked about forfeiting were the injury situation to worsen.
"We're going with what got us here," Johnson said.
If this is some Cuba-style subterfuge and Team USA plans on importing fresh blood, bravo. If not, Johnson is right. The Americans are going with what got them to Los Angeles.
A team that won in spite of the people in charge.
- Team USA